Research and scholarship are central to all of the Museum’s activities, including the development of collections, exhibitions, publications and programs. This research is wide-ranging, including Australian history and experience, collection care, and museology, particularly in the areas of audience evaluation, outreach and community engagement.
Research in the Museum is supported by the Curatorial Centres, Research Fellowships, Associate Programs, the Research Library and research partnerships. Museum staff regularly publish and give presentations on our research activity.
Ideas, research and scholarship underpin all our work. The Curatorial Centres drive a bold exploration of ideas and public engagement that connect the Museum and its collection to profound questions in Australian and global life.
Dr Martha Sear
Martha Sear is the Head of Curatorial Centres. As an historian and curator her work has focused on rural life, the environment and international exhibitions.
The Head of Curatorial Centres leads and coordinates the work of the team, including the research program, partnerships, ideas generation and development of the overall Museum experience.
Email enquiries about our Curatorial Centres to firstname.lastname@example.org
The Swayn Senior Fellow in Australian Design is a collaboration between the National Museum of Australia, the Alastair Swayn Foundation and The Swayn Gallery of Australian Design. The Fellowship program has a vision to increase public awareness and connection to design through collections, collaborations, exhibitions, events and research, and will establish the Swayn Centre for Australian Design in 2022.
ARC collaborative research projects
Museum researchers are participating in collaborative research and development projects including these Australian Research Council projects:
‘Return, reconcile, renew: Understanding the history, effects and opportunities of repatriation and building an evidence base for the future’, 2013–16; renewed as a LIEF grant until 2018–19
Australian National University, University of Melbourne, University of Tasmania, Flinders University, AIATSIS, Department of Communications and the Arts, Kimberley Aboriginal Law and Culture Centre, Ngarrindjeri Regional Authority, University of Otago, Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa, Gur A Baradharaw Kod Torres Strait Sea and Land Council, Association on American Indian Affairs (former partner) and National Museum of Australia
This project analyses the historical context of repatriation over the past 40 years, revealing and exploring rich Indigenous histories, the effects of repatriation, and increased understanding of the current and future role of repatriation in community development.
The project’s data archive continues to be used to forge new ground in the Indigenous development of protocols for the digital archiving of, and online access to, information of high cultural sensitivity, through the subsequent ‘Restoring dignity’ project.
- Website developed: Return, reconcile, renew
- Major textbook published: C Fforde, CT McKeown & H Keeler (eds.), The Routledge Companion to Indigenous Repatriation: Return, Reconcile, Renew, London, Routledge, 2020.
- Online publication: Michael Pickering, A Repatriation Handbook: A guide to the repatriation of Australian Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Ancestral Remains, National Museum of Australia, 2020.
‘The relational museum and its objects’, 2015–19
Australian National University, British Museum, Museum of the Riverina and National Museum of Australia
This project aims to develop and trial approaches that facilitate community access to, and engagements with, Indigenous collections and objects that have been historically dispersed across museums in Australia and the United Kingdom (UK).
It is being conducted in collaboration with Indigenous communities and regional museums in both countries and seeks to develop and test a new theory around the ‘relational museum’ and contemporary museum practice in Australia. A focus during the past year has been on local museum collections held in the Riverina.
The project has also enabled comprehensive research of Indigenous material held in museums — large and small — in the UK.
‘A new theory of Aboriginal art’, 2015–18
University of Wollongong and National Museum of Australia
This project aims to re-evaluate Aboriginal art practices from the contemporary art perspective of relational art and transculturalism. It looks to revive an industry that, while well established, is not yet taking full advantage of the global art world economy.
Oral history interviews recorded with remote and urban Aboriginal communities for the project will be archived as a research collection, and contribute to a radio documentary/podcast for Earshot on ABC Radio National.
‘DomeLab: An ultra-high resolution experimental fulldome’, 2015–20
University of New South Wales, University of Western Sydney, RMIT University, University of Canberra, University of Western Australia, University of Tasmania, City University of Hong Kong, Museums Victoria, Australian National Maritime Museum, Walter and Eliza Hall Institute of Medical Research, AARNet Pty Ltd, Intersect Australia Ltd and National Museum of Australia
The DomeLab project pilots the first ultra-high resolution experimental fulldome in Australia and is the technology that underpinned the Dome experience in the Museum’s Songlines: Tracking the Seven Sisters exhibition.
The facility provides a powerful immersive video projection environment, resulting in a low-cost display system with innovative aesthetics and content delivery. The project explores three themes at the forefront of new museology: interactive media, future museology, and experimental and digital humanities.
‘Understanding Australia in the age of humans: Localising the Anthropocene’, 2016–18, extended to 2019
University of Sydney, Australian National University, University of New South Wales, American Museum of Natural History, University of Leicester and University of Wisconsin
This project aims to narrate how human interventions have come to transform Australian environments, and show the history and impact of humans on continental and ocean environments.
By examining the role museums can play in making sense of Australia’s experiences during a period of rapid planetary change, this project moves away from an abstract understanding of these issues, to use objects, performances, stories and art to make real the local dimensions of the idea of the Anthropocene.
As part of the project, Museum staff have contributed to the Everyday Futures website and publication, and supported public programming and events.
‘The Aboriginal History Archive’, 2017–19
Victoria University, Deakin University, University of Newcastle, University of Technology Sydney, University of Melbourne, Te Whare Wānanga o Awanuiārangi, University of Exeter, University of Waikato, Old Parliament House and National Museum of Australia
The focus of this project is the creation of an online archive dedicated to recording the histories of self-determination, land rights, and community survival programs of Aboriginal communities in Australia.
The project seeks to record the contemporary perspectives and voices of Aboriginal participants, including primary source material donated by individuals and community organisations.
The archive is working to address a gap in Australia’s understanding of the political, legal, health and social position of Aboriginal communities in Australia.
‘Restoring dignity: Networked knowledge for repatriation communities’, 2017–19
Australian National University, Humboldt University, Department of Communications and the Arts, Gur A Baradharaw Kod Torres Strait Sea and Land Council, Kimberley Aboriginal Law and Culture Centre, Ngarrindjeri Regional Authority, University of Amsterdam, University of Otago, Flinders University of South Australia, Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies (AIATSIS), Association on American Indian Affairs (former partner) and National Museum of Australia
Bringing together shared research, resources and networks, this project aims to create a digital facility to preserve and make accessible a critical and extensive record of repatriation information worldwide within an Indigenous data-governance framework.
The archive, spanning the past 40 years of research and repatriation activities, is expected to support repatriation practice and improve the opportunities of repatriation for social good.
Museum staff have supported the project with archival and institutional research related to the Museum’s role in repatriation histories, and participated in a repatriation workshop delivered by the Australian National University in Broome and Fitzroy Crossing in September 2018.
- Nearing completion: development of website
- Read the international repatriation workshop blog post
‘Heritage of the air: How aviation transformed Australia’, 2017–20
University of Canberra, University of Sydney, Australian National University, University of New South Wales, Airservices Australia, Civil Aviation Historical Society, SFO Museum and National Museum of Australia
Civil aviation has transformed Australian society over the past 100 years, and the focus of this project is on investigating the people, rather than the planes, to tell the broader story of Australian communities and aviation, including Indigenous people and communities.
The project seeks to build a partnership between the aviation industry, community groups, museums and multidisciplinary scholars to develop insights into aviation heritage.
Stories will be told through heritage archives and institutional collections to produce exhibitions, accessible digital collections and publications, as a way of conserving this part of Australia’s social and cultural history.
'Conviction Politics: Investigating the convict routes of Australian democracy', 2019–23
Monash University, University of Tasmania, Australian Catholic University, Griffith University, University of South Wales Prifysgol De Cmru, University College London and National Museum of Australia
'Profit and loss: The commercial trade in Indigenous human remains', 2020–22
National Museum of Australia
This project is investigating the global commercial trade in Indigenous human remains. It employs a multi-disciplinary approach involving history, economic anthropology, economic history, and data science.
The project is generating new knowledge about the 19th-century global marketplace in Australian Indigenous human remains, and will reveal whether and how these are involved in the trade’s modern manifestations from 1950 to the present.
The project is uncovering an unknown history, assisting repatriation practice, providing information to help reduce the modern trade, and contributing to truth-telling as a precondition of healing and reconciliation.
Other research projects
Participant in successful funding grant from AIATSIS, ‘Repatriation, healing and wellbeing: Understanding success for repatriation policy and practice’.
Project leaders: Ngarrindjeri Regional Authority and ANU Department of Heritage and Museum Studies